Hold on. Saturday is big. Gridirons are alive. Auburn is playing Oregon in Texas. Alabama is playing Duke in Atlanta. Plus, it’s International Bacon Day. Wow.
When I told my friend Kevin Wilkinson about Bacon Day, his eyes rolled back and then he rolled back, too. He said something about bacon being good and then making other things better. I told him, “That’s it. How much better can it get?”
In our classes, we’ll always laugh when I ask new members about what makes everything better. Of course, bacon is the answer. By golly, it’s basically true. Unless you don’t care for bacon (say it isn’t so), it has the ability to improve lots of dishes.
There are all sorts of bacons out there. Lots of brands and styles. The quality varies greatly and so do prices. Selections go from pieces to thick cut slices.
Like so many things, you often get what you pay for in bacon. You'll see packages marketed called ends or pieces. That's exactly what they are. That bacon is quickly cured and is intended for seasoning.
Mass-produced, inexpensive bacon tends to be excessively wet and sliced thinly. It shrinks significantly when cooked. What appears to be a good buy really isn't.
Sometimes bacon sliced to a regular thickness is what we need. Otherwise thick cut tends to be better for eating. A very good option is a bacon from Wright Brand. It’s widely available. Here in the South there are several options from Zeigler’s.
Chef Christian Watson from the Waverly Local is a fan of Hormel Black Label thick cut. It’s a favorite of his. This is a widely available bacon and affordably priced.
My favorites are easy to like. The one I use most is Conecuh. It’s thick cut and full of flavor. It’s cost effective, too. The 24-ounce package is less than $10. The fine people at Wright’s Market usually carry it.
For those special times, I turn to the rich smoky bacon from Benton’s in Madisonville, Tenn. It’s true smokehouse cured. You can smell the smoke through the cryovac. I order it directly from Benton’s.
Locally, the Capps family produces a limited amount of bacon. Good stuff when you can get it. So is their great sausage.
Pancetta is a close bacon relative. It’s rolled pork belly that’s not smoked. Tasty Ventreche from France has a light cure and just a touch of smoke.
There are other styles, too. Bacon is usually made from the belly portion of a pig. Some come from the back or loin. Popular Canadian bacon is one. It’s rolled, ham cured and smoked before slicing. Irish bacon is the boneless loin with a ham cure. Seriously good and filling.
Thankfully, there are many ways to enjoy bacon. Sure, the BLT is classic. Bacon for breakfast is a perfect way. Bacon just for bacon works for me. Question is, can more bacon make bacon better? I don’t see why not.
Did I make something special for this column? Of course, I did. I called it sweet tea bacon. I made some strong Luzianne tea and gave it a full portion of sugar. Two cups of sweet tea, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and a crushed clove of garlic is all it took. I simmered these until I had a thick syrup-like consistency.
Take a few slices of Conecuh bacon and cut in half. Coat both sides of the bacon with the syrup and place in a cold pan. Simmer slowly turning halfway through. The result will be thick and wonderful - almost a solid texture. You can bake this on a cooling rack in a pan in a 350 oven as well.
This is seriously good stuff and goes down mighty quickly. Sure looks good too. Use as is or chop and add to a dish. When simmered in a sauce, it is dynamite and so is the sauce.
As my editor, Tonya Reed, told me, “I think it’s my duty to eat bacon on that day.” I absolutely agree. It’s my plan and more than once. Sure hope it’s yours too.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident, a food, wine and restaurant consultant, and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.